ESPN analysts see gloomy ending to UK season

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2014 

ESPN analysts Fran Fraschilla and Jay Bilas threw some F-bombs at Kentucky's basketball team on Wednesday. Nobody seems to be having any "fun" and nobody should expect a run to this year's Final Four.

"I feel badly for John (Calipari) ... ," Fraschilla said of the UK coach and longtime friend. "He's not having any fun coaching these guys.

"And I'm not saying it's these players' fault."

Fraschilla noted UK's reliance on so-called one-and-done players as a factor in the absence of fun and/or Final Four-caliber credentials.

"He goes in with eyes wide open recruiting one-and-done guys," Fraschilla said of Calipari. "The last two (Kentucky) teams bear no resemblance to the teams he coached at UMass and Memphis."

Nor, Fraschilla added, do the UK players look happy.

"I just think they look like a team not having any fun," Fraschilla said.

Nor is Fraschilla having any fun.

"I do feel badly for him," Fraschilla said of Calipari. "Now, I don't feel badly because he knew what he was getting into with this type of recruiting style. But they're just not fun to watch."

UK finishes the regular season Saturday at Florida, which Fraschilla and Bilas lauded as not only the nation's No. 1 team but as the personification of how basketball should be played.

"Of the teams I've watched this year ... they're the most fun to watch," Bilas said of the Gators.

Fraschilla chimed in by adding, "The thing I respect the most about Billy (Donovan) and Florida basketball is they play and act and look like a team."

Fraschilla and Bilas made the chances of a Kentucky victory at Florida on Saturday seem remote. Fraschilla likened UK at Florida to Boston College at Syracuse. Of course, Boston College, now 8-22, upset then-No. 1 Syracuse on Feb. 19.

"It may happen," Fraschilla said of UK beating Florida. "But I wouldn't hold my breath."

The ESPN analysts were not much more optimistic about Kentucky's chances to make big waves in the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't know how much better (the Cats) can get chemistry-wise going into the (NCAA) Tournament," Fraschilla said. "They're still enormously talented. If given the right draw, they could go far in the tournament. If I was a gambler, I wouldn't be betting on them."

Bilas summed up Kentucky's NCAA profile succinctly.

"This is not a Final Four team like we've come to expect at Kentucky under Calipari," he said.

Calipari — and by extension UK fans — are victims of past success, Bilas seemed to say. The Elite Eight-Final Four-national championship run in Calipari's first three seasons as Kentucky coach painted a false picture of what a freshman-oriented team can accomplish, he said.

"I think John spoiled us," Bilas said. "I don't think this is an unusual thing to see Kentucky struggle with freshmen trying to blend together."

The exceptional seasons were in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Bilas said. Not last season or this season. As wine vintages can change year by year, the quality of recruiting classes can vary.

"This class was hyped — and maybe overhyped — based on numbers," said Bilas, meaning spots in various rankings of prospects. "And not based on pieces.

"I don't think anybody said the two best players in this class were better than Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

"If the 2012 team was in this (NCAA Tournament) field, they'd be the best team, and we wouldn't be down on freshmen and the one-and-done (players)."

Kentucky is not having a bad season, Bilas reminded participants on a teleconference. The Cats take a 22-8 record into the game at Florida.

Late in the teleconference, a reporter asked about Virginia's run to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in more than 30 years and a No. 5 ranking in the latest polls.

"It's still a team game," said Fraschilla, who called Florida and Virginia "groups of guys who epitomize how a team should play the game of basketball."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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